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Fusaric acid-induced epigenetic modifications in vitro and in vivo: alternative mechanisms of hepatotoxicity.

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The Fusarium-produced mycotoxin, Fusaric acid (FA), is a frequent contaminant of agricultural foods that exhibits toxicity in plants and animals with little information on its molecular and epigenetic mechanisms. Epigenetic modifications including DNA methylation, histone methylation, N-6-methyladenosine (m6A) RNA methylation, and microRNAs are central mediators of cellular function and may constitute novel mechanisms of FA toxicity. This study aimed to determine epigenetic mechanisms of FA-induced hepatotoxicity in vitro and in vivo by specifically investigating DNA methylation, histone 3 lysine (K) 9 trimethylation (H3K9me3), and m6A-mediated regulation of p53 expression in human liver (HepG2) cells and C57BL/6 mice livers. FA induced global DNA hypomethylation in HepG2 cells; decreased the expression of DNA methyltransferases (DNMT1, DNMT3A, and DNMT3B) by inducing promoter hypermethylation and upregulated expression of miR-29b. Further, FA decreased the ubiquitination of DNMT1, DNMT3A, and DNMT3B by decreasing the expression of the ubiquitination regulators, UHRF1 and USP7. FA induced promoter hypomethylation of the demethylase, MBD2 and increased MBD2 expression contributing to global DNA hypomethylation in HepG2 cells. DNA methylation and H3K9me3 function in concert to regulate genome integrity and gene transcription. Sirtuin (Sirt) 1 is a histone deacetylase and direct target of miR-200a that regulates the repressive H3K9me3 mark by post-translationally modifying both H3K9Ac and the histone methyltransferase, SUV39H1. FA upregulated miR-200a and decreased Sirt1 expression in HepG2 cells and C57BL/6 mice livers. FA decreased the expression of SUV39H1 and histone demethylase, KDM4B which led to a decrease in H3K9me3 and an increase in H3K9me1. FA also decreased cell viability via apoptosis as evidenced by the significant increase in the activity of the executioner caspase-3/7. The tumor suppressor protein, p53 regulates cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in response to cellular stress. The expression of p53 is regulated at the transcriptional and post-transcriptional level by promoter methylation and m6A RNA methylation. In HepG2 cells, FA induced p53 promoter hypermethylation and decreased p53 expression. FA also decreased m6A-p53 levels by decreasing the expression of the methyltransferases, METTL3 and METTL14, and the m6A readers, YTHDF1, YTHDF3, and YTHDC2, thereby, decreasing p53 translation. In C57BL/6 mice livers FA, however, induced p53 promoter hypomethylation and increased p53 expression. FA increased m6A-p53 levels by increasing the expression of METTL3 and METTL14; and increased expression of YTHDF1, YTHDF3, and YTHDC2 increased p53 translation. In conclusion, this study provides evidence for alternative mechanisms of FA-induced hepatotoxicity (in vitro and in vivo) by modulating DNA methylation, H3K9me3, m6A RNA methylation, and epigenetically regulating p53 expression ultimately leading to genome instability and apoptotic cell death. These results provide insight into a better understanding of FA induced hepatic toxicity at the epigenetic and cellular level and may assist in the development of preventative and therapeutic measures against FA toxicity. It also suggests that exposure to FA may lead to the onset of human diseases via epigenetic changes/modifications. This is particularly relevant in under privileged communities where the food supply and storage conditions are inadequate.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.